NEW YORK — Thousands of fans gathered in lower Manhattan Wednesday morning to celebrate one of the greatest sports teams in American history.
The fans — little girls and boys on summer break and grown women and men skipping out of work for a few hours, many wearing red, white and blue jerseys — lined Broadway from Battery Park all the way to City Hall to cheer on the world champion U.S. women’s national soccer team.
The team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final on Sunday, completing one of the most dominant performances in the history of the tournament.
The 23 American women on the team and their coaching staff rolled up Broadway on floats through the city’s famed “Canyon of Heroes” as part of a special ticker-tape parade, the first such event New York has hosted since 2015, when the U.S. women last won the World Cup.
Marching bands and bagpipe players marched first as people threw confetti from the high-rise buildings above. Construction workers draped American flags over scaffolding attached to the buildings and blew air horns as the players passed below.
Shriya Shahi, a 14-year-old from Queens who plays as a left-winger on her local team, wore a brand-new “World Champions” T-shirt. She stood along Broadway with her dad and little brother.
Shriya said she loves the U.S. national team because of “the amount of passion” they play with, and because of “what they’re trying to do for equal pay and make a better future for the people who play the sport.”
“We bring in more fans, we win more,” she said of the women’s national team. “I’m not saying the men are terrible or bad or anything, but what we do is something the men haven’t accomplished yet and the amount of pay difference is crazy and it shouldn’t be that way.”
Throughout the parade, fans chanted “Equal pay!” The women’s national team, which is paid less than the men’s team, has sued the U.S. Soccer Federation president over gender discrimination.
Shriya said her favorite U.S. player is fellow winger Tobin Heath because of the way she “manipulates the ball and gets past defenders.” Shriya’s little brother, Shawi, said his favorite player was striker Alex Morgan.
“Because of how she plays,” 9-year-old Shawi explained. “She’s also good-looking. She’s like the top scorer for the USA and does beautiful headers.”
Twins Julia and Jenna Fusco, both wearing national team jerseys, traveled to the city from Beth Page, New York, on Wednesday to see their soccer heroes up close. The 19-year-old twins, now in college, played soccer growing up.
Jenna told HuffPost she found the younger players, like Mallory Pugh or Rose Lavelle, the most inspiring.
“They showed people that if you have enough ambition and enough goals, you can make your dreams possible,” she said.
The U.S. national team broke multiple records during this year’s Women’s World Cup, scoring the most goals in the history of the tournament and the most goals ever recorded in a single match.
The team is now currently on the longest winning streak in Women’s World Cup history and is only the second team to win consecutive Women’s World Cups. It’s also now won the tournament four times, more than any other country.
Halfway through the tournament, a video emerged of team co-captain Megan Rapinoe telling a reporter “I’m not going to the fucking White House” if the Trump administration invited them after a World Cup victory, citing President Donald Trump’s bigotry.
“Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” the president tweeted on June 26 after the video of the Rapinoe interview went viral.
Two days after Trump’s tweet, Rapinoe scored twice in a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over France, arguably the tournament’s second-best team. After the final on Sunday, Rapinoe was pictured carrying three trophies: the World Cup itself, the Golden Boot (for most goals scored) and the Golden Ball (for the most valuable player.) She had more than finished the job.
Anouska Cheddie, a 45-year-old immigrant from Guyana who works for an environmental group in New York, said she found this team inspiring not just for what they did on the field, but also what they did off it.
“As an immigrant here, as a woman, we’re not represented in [the president’s] ‘Make America Great Again’ vision,” Cheddie said. To see Rapinoe be “so fierce” in the face of criticism from the president was “so incredibly inspiring,” she added.
“They’re just so bold and they stay true to who they are,” Cheddie said of the team. “It’s so inspiring to see women like that.”
At the end of the parade, the team scattered the pages of its gender discrimination lawsuit around City Hall. In an Instagram story posted by goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, teammate Allie Long can be seen eating a page of the lawsuit. “Pay us, bitch,” Harris can be heard saying the background.
After Mayor Bill de Blasio gave each player a key to the city during a ceremony at City Hall, Rapinoe, wearing sunglasses beneath her signature purple hairdo, took to the podium.
Nearby sat U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro, whom the players sued only a few months ago. (Cordeiro has said he thinks the women’s team deserves equal pay, and the lawsuit is currently in mediation.)
“I’m gonna stick my neck out there,” Rapinoe said, looking over at Cordeiro. “I’m gonna endorse Carlos. I think he’s gonna make things right.”
But, Rapinoe added, “we look forward to holding those feet to the fire.”
Rapinoe also took some time to thank her team.
“This group is so resilient, is so tough,” Rapinoe said of her teammates. “It has such a sense of humor, is so badass. There’s nothing that can faze this group. We’re chillin’. We’ve got tea-sippin’. We’ve got celebrations. We have pink hair and purple hair. We have tattoos and dreadlocks. We got white girls and black girls, and everything in between. Straight girls and gay girls. Hey!”
Then, after imploring Americans to “love more and hate less, to listen and more and talk less,” Rapinoe had a message for the city that had hosted the parade.
“New York City!” Rapinoe screamed. “You’re the motherfucking best!”
See more photos from the scene of the U.S. women’s national soccer team parade below: